Category: Foreign Action & Adventure


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When movies are shot on paper-thin budgets but go on to be massive successes anyway, it gives heart to independent film-makers around the world that you don’t need a studio-sized checkbook to make an appealing movie that others will want to see. Whether that’s Paranormal Activity, Clerks, or The Blair Witch Project, there are plenty of great examples of accomplishing a lot with very little (Paranormal Activity was first shot in 2007 on a $15,000 budget and now it’s one of the most profitable films of all time). 1992’s El Mariachi was very profitable if not a huge box office smash (it made around $2 million compared to the $7,000 it required to shoot it), but it’s success is notable for an entirely different reason. With a movie financed almost entirely by taking part in a medical research study, Robert Rodriguez (The Faculty) shot himself to international superstardom as a filmmaker and it only got better from this impressive debut.

Although it will become somewhat clear that I have nothing but the utmost respect for Robert Rodriguez and El Mariachi, that respect is primarily related to how professional this film is able to feel despite the fact that Rodriguez had never made a feature-length film before, shot the movie entirely in single takes, and made it for a grand total of $7,000. Because, at the end of the day, El Mariachi is a B-movie at it’s heart (though, let’s face it, all of Rodriguez’s films are), and if this same movie were made on a budget of over half a million dollars, people would probably laugh in his face. But, the film was shot for $7,000 and for someone who struggled to shoot a five minute short film on a literal $0 budget with film-making tools given to me for free, it’s impressive to an absurd degree that Rodriguez was able to make this film.

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When a white gangster, Moco (Peter Marquardt) in Mexico double-crosses a vengeance-fueled Mexican hit man, Azul (Reinol Martinez), an all-out war breaks out between Moco’s men and the one-man death army known as Azul. Azul’s MO is to wander around as a traveling Mariachi but he secretly keeps his stash of weapons hidden inside his guitar case to be able to be pulled out at a moment’s notice. And this spells trouble when an actually mariachi, known only in the film as El Mariachi (Carlos Gallardo), stumbles into town just looking for a job and a place to play his music. But when a case of mistaken identity leads to El Mariachi being mistaken for Azul, El Mariachi becomes the prime target of Moco’s men and though he flees to the safety of a saloon ran by the beautiful Domino (Consuelo Gomez), that only spells more trouble for himself and his unwilling savior.

I won’t waste your time harping on any of the performances of the principal actors because none of them are worth praise (though Carlos Gallardo seemed like he had potential. It was a shame his career never really took off after this film). Instead, what’s impressive is Rodriguez’s ability to tell a mostly compelling action story (that was a fun spin on the classic North by Northwest tale of mistaken identity) with so few tools at his disposal. Even this early on, Rodriguez’s talents as a pop auteur were on full display and even as a neophyte, Rodriguez already had a mastery of pacing and editing. In fact, it’s the editing of the film that I often found the most impressive because as someone who’s written, directed, shot, and edited a film, editing is without question the hardest part.

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I’ll keep this review extra short cause it’s been a couple days since I’ve watched it and other than being a feat of budget wizardry, there’s not a hell of a lot to say about El Mariachi other than how enjoyable it remains even 21 years later. There’s nothing deep about this movie. It’s an action movie centered around a case of mistaken identity that happens to feature a surprisingly sympathetic hero and love interest. If you aren’t a fan of B-Action films, knowing that Robert Rodriguez made this movie on a shoe-string budget won’t make you like it more. But, for those who have a soft spot in their heart for camp, El Mariachi is a delightful exercise in independent film-making and a fascinating insight into the formative years of a star who is one of the most talented popcorn filmmakers out there today.

Final Score: B

 

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(A quick aside before my actual review. Yes, I know there’s supposed to be an accent mark over the “e” in “Léon” in the title of this piece but I have no idea how to add it. Also, it feels like it’s ten million degrees in my room right now so I apologize if any of my writing is unintelligible. My brain is totally fried.)

The poetic action film is the Great White Whale of film-making for men that don’t want to feel guilty about testosterone-fueled entertainment. We want to believe it’s out there somewhere, but despite all of that, 99% of the time we’re chasing a myth. 1994’s Léon: The Professional from French director Luc Besson (1990’s La Femme Nikita) is likely the closest cinema’s ever come to the truly poetic action film. Though the film is not without its flaws, its devotion to story, mood, and characters alongside a hyperviolent tale of both revenge and love marked Luc Besson as one of the rare purveyors of action cinema that is also a true auteur. The Professional is the sort of film that early period Tarantino could have been proud of, and thanks to an electric big screen debut from Natalie Portman (Black Swan), The Professional is the definition of a flawed masterpiece.

Léon (Margaret‘s Jean Reno) is a cleaner. But, he’s a cleaner for the Italian mob which means he’s a hitman. And he’s a damn good one though his code of “No women. No kids,” means he has a moral system he operates by. And besides the fact that he’s an almost mind-bogglingly efficient killer, Léon is almost a child at heart. He can not read English. He cares for a single potted plant like it were his own child. And he goes to watch old Gene Kelly movies at the theatre with the pure adulation of only the most innocent at heart. He barely even spends the money he earns which mostly just sits in the “bank” of his mobster boss, Tony (Moonstruck‘s Danny Aiello). But, when he crosses path with Mathilda (Natalie Portman), a 12 year old girl living in his apartment building, his simple life is thrown violently off track.

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The chain-smoking, frequently-cursing Mathilda is the emotionally and physically abused daughter of a local hood who gets himself in over his head with a corrupt and borderline psychotic D.E.A. Agent, Stansfield (The Dark Knight Rises‘s Gary Oldman). When Mathilda’s father and the rest of her family is murdered by Stansfield and other corrupt cops, Mathilda’s life is only spared because she was out buying milk at the time the hit went down. And, against his better judgment, Léon welcomes Mathilda into his home to protect her. Though Mathilda could care less about her abusive father, Stansfield’s men killed her four year old brother, and she desperately wants revenge against the men that killed her family. And so, she forces her way even more into Léon’s life and makes him teach her how to be a cleaner so that she can get the revenge she so desperately craves.

Out of the three principal leads in the film (Portman, Reno, and Goldman), you have one simply jaw-dropping performance, one deliciously hammy performance, and one “meh” performance that works within the context of the character. Natalie Portman’s ferocious turn as Mathilda is easily one of the top 10 child performances of all time, and it should be no surprise that she would later go on to win an Academy Award for Black Swan. She should have been nominated for this. There’s a scene midway through the film where Mathilda puts a gun to her head to force Léon to teach her to be a cleaner where the sadness and desperation that is consuming Mathilda is painfully apparent. Most adult actresses would have struggled with the part. Portman blew it out of the water as a 13 year old.

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Gary Oldman’s performance is the one that I refer to as being deliciously hammy. There is no question that it’s over-the-top. It is insanely over the top, but Stansfield is a villain of monstrous, pure evil, and Luc Besson gave Goldman the freedom to run crazy with the performance. There are two moments in particular that stand out. One is him sashaying to Mozart as he massacres Mathilda’s family. And the other is the infamous “EVERYONE!” quip during the climactic action sequence. Jean Reno is, unfortunately, not the world’s greatest actor. His English wasn’t very good in the 90s, and it shows in this film. But, Léon is a man of quiet contemplation and few words, and so, though Reno doesn’t deliver one of the most exciting performances of the film, he certainly delivers what is needed for his character.

As I’ve said earlier, beyond Portman’s star-making performance (had she never made another film, this would have been legacy-cementing in its own right), The Professional soars because of its singular commitment to character-development and genuine emotional pay-offs over typical action pyrotechnics. Let their be no mistake. The climax of the film is as thrilling as it gets, but its power rests in the fact that two hours into the film, we are now incredibly invested into the outcome of Léon and Mathilda’s lives. They are fully rounded, three dimensional characters, and just like in La Femme Nikita, the psychological aspect of these characters throws off more sparks than action scenes ever could. As a warped coming-of-age tale as well as an equally warped romance, The Professional finds the poetry in its carnage.

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When The Professional was first released in 1994, it generated a fair bit of controversy for the seemingly Lolita-esque nature of the relationship between Mathilda and Léon. And while I think Mathilda’s attraction to her mentor and savior was decidedly one-way (and based mostly around the lack of a reasonable father figure in her life), I have an entirely new set of contentions with the film’s handling of a thirteen year old heroine. The Professional sexualizes Mathilda. That’s just a fact. From the many angles that the film shoots her, it’s clear that Besson’s camera views Portman as a sexual object. Though it’s clearly not to the level of exploitation of Brooke Shields in Pretty Baby, I lost track of the number of times that the film shot Portman from the ass down. It was weird and it made me incredibly uncomfortable. I think the controversy surrounding Mathilda’s love for Léon was mostly misplaced because this is why people should have been upset.

When the film was released in America (where it was called The Professional as opposed to Léon in Europe), we were given a massively pared down version of the film, and though I’ve fallen in love with the European cut of the movie, I would be interested in seeing the edited version of the film because besides the sexualization of Natalie Portman, my most substantive complaint about The Professional is that it drags a little towards the end. I understand that I love this film because of the character development and commitment to building these characters up, but at times, certain elements felt like filler. Also, there’s one scene during the climactic action sequence where Jean Reno bellows (there really isn’t a better word to use here) that is the bad kind of hammy.

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If you’ve not seen The Professional, you need to drop whatever you’re doing and watch it immediately. I’m not exaggerating when I say that outside of the confines of particular war films, it’s arguably one of the greatest action films ever made. It has its flaws, and its particularly French (i.e. Louis Malle committed the same sins in Pretty Baby) with the sexuality of a young girl struck me as heartily disturbing. However, I can forgive Luc Besson his trespasses when the rest of his storytelling and character-building are so strong. From the first time I watched this film more than ten years ago, I fell in love with The Professional. And with each viewing, I find something new to appreciate and notice. Luc Besson is an auteur, and in a world where seemingly every action film (outliers like Looper the glorious exception) feels like a Michael Bay debacle, one must take the time to appreciate the art of a movie like Léon: The Professional.

Final Score: A-

 

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Although it’s easy to forget, what with my love of Glee, musical theater, and more feminine venues of artistic expression, I am a man. And occasionally, I need visceral, testosterone-fueled outlets for my more masculine urges. That’s likely why I can enjoy stylized, hyper-violent video games. Something in me as a man inherently appreciates a chance to vent that sort of aggression that evolution instilled in me somewhere but that society has more or less made unnecessary. It’s the same with how I can enjoy professional wrestling (and yes I know it’s fake) and also like Terrence Malick or Federico Fellini at the same time. It’s nice to see displays of masculine athleticism. And the visual poetry of well-choreographed martial arts explains why legions of men have loved “kung fu” movies (even when it’s a different school of martial arts) for decades now. It’s machismo with actual talent.

Long-time readers know my love of the burgeoning martial arts scene coming from Southeast Asia over the last decade or so, particularly the film’s involving Thailand’s muay thai master Tony Jaa (Ong Bak). I took martial arts lessons for a long time when I was younger (although I was pretty terrible at it), and I’ve always loved watching bad-ass men prove how athletic and talented they are destruction with just their fists and feet. I’m not sure if it’s possible to watch a well-choreographed martial arts film and not at least get an adrenaline rush from the skill these guys show with their body. It’s a true mastery of mind and body, and it’s  a talent that should be celebrated. 2011’s The Raid: Redemption starts out and worries viewers by making you think that it’s just another guns-blazing action film, but when everyone finally runs out of ammo, the movie becomes a martial arts extravaganza that’s a feast for the eyes.

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An elite swat team has orders to infiltrate a heavily guarded tenement building in the slums of Indonesia. The building is the home of the operations (and soldiers) of one of Indonesia’s most feared and brutal drug lords. Led by the honorable Jaka (Joe Taslim) and the sketchy/scheming Wahyu (Pierre Gruno), the team of 20 or so rookie swat members storm the drug den unaware of the hell they are walking into. When 75% of the force is wiped out after the group fails to kill a child who is a scout for the drug dealers, it’s up to the four remaining members of the team to fight their way out of the building. And most of the duty for escape falls on the shoulders of rookie Rama (Iko Uwais) whose martial arts skills prove to be the only thing that’s keeping him and his squadmates alive.

The characters in the film are paper thing and almost without definition beyond their ability to be weapons of mass destruction with just their fists. And the story doesn’t provide any twists that you didn’t see coming besides a minor plot point about Rama being the brother of one of the drug lord’s top lieutenants. The acting isn’t bad, but it certainly isn’t anything to write home about. But, when you’re watching The Raid: Redemption, you don’t care about any of these things. The sheer spectacle of the film as the silat fighting style is shown off like never before is enough to keep you glued to your seat for the entire running time. Whether Rama is fighting off 30 thugs with just a nightstick and knife or he and his brother attempt to fight against just one superhumanly athletic man, The Raid will serve as a future lesson on how to do gorgeous fight choreography.

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I’ll keep this review short. It’s an action film and if you don’t like martial arts movies, you’re not going to like this one. But for anybody who is a fan of the theatrics of martial arts wizardry, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a film more bad-ass than The Raid: Redemption. The film seemed a little disappointing at the beginning when everyone was still using their guns, but that’s because gunplay is almost never as gorgeous as fists of fury. But, when the fighting becomes more brutal and in-your-face, The Raid becomes a literal non-stop fight for survival that displays some of the most innovative and adrenaline-pumping martial arts action this side of Tony Jaa. Watch it now.

Final Score: B

 

We’re nearing the one-year anniversary of this blog (and I’ll have a major Best of Year One list that covers all of the media I’ve worked on for this blog during that time. Should be fun), and it’s given me some interesting perspective on the many paths my movie-watching has taken me over these last 365 days. The first two French films I watched for this blog (if you don’t count Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress which was French-produced but essentially a Chinese film) were turgid and slow affairs that either didn’t live up to their own thematic potential (Belle de Jour) or nearly incomprehensible for possible cultural reasons (La Ceremonie). I haven’t actually seen many French films for this blog, but the next two I watched proceeded to either completely wow me or at least be very good if not great. Louis Malle’s Lacombe, Lucien remains one of the best WWII films I’ve reviewed thus far, and Monsieur Ibrahim was a quiet and sentimental film that turned out to be quite a tear-jerker. Well, god bless Luc Besson for keeping up the streak of high quality French films (and foreign films in general) that I’ve been on with his marvelous study of violence, loyalty, love, and penance, the remarkable 1990 original version of La Femme Nikita.

La Femme Nikita is the tale of a young, drug-addicted French woman (whose real name may or may not be Nikita played by the marvelous Anne Parillaud) who murders a cop when the robbery of a pharmacy with her junkie friends ends in a shoot-out with the police. Sentenced to life in prison with virtually no possibility of parole, Nikita is forcibly entered into a secret government agency to be trained as a top-level assassin for the French government. Her death in her old prison is faked and all ties with her old world are cut off. Nikita was chosen because of her almost psychotic fieriness and natural toughness and she’s a natural fit for the violent world of espionage and assassinations. Though she initially rebels against the life she’s forced into, she eventually complies and over the course of the film carries out several missions that take increasing tolls on her sanity and happiness. When she is sent on a mission to a remote part of France and falls in love with a local clerk, her newfound love and bliss is instantly put at risk by the dangerous other life she inhabits.

Anne Parrillaud was such a natural and instantly riveting talent that I have trouble believing that she wasn’t the primary influence of all of the other action heroines to come over the last two decades. Before Lisbeth Salander was investigating Nazis and torturing rapists, before the Bride was slicing and dicing her way through hordes of Yakuza, and before Sidney Bristow walked the tight-rope of being a CIA double agent, you had Nikita. Her transformation over the course of this film simply has to be seen to be believed. When we first meet Nikita, she’s a drugged-out junkie without even a hint of femininity or grace. By the time she leaves her assassin training program, she’s a knock-out beauty that knows how to use her wiles to get what she needs. On that same note, Parrillaud is able to flip between an almost feral aggression and anger (that I’ve only ever seen matched by Rooney Mara) to a wrenching vulnerability. This was a complex and dynamic role and Parrillaud stepped up to bat and hit a home run.

What separates La Femme Nikita from other hyper-violent action films (this may seem tame by today’s standards, but when it was released, it was shockingly violent) is the emphasis it places on story and character development. This isn’t a series of action sequences supported by a bare-bones excuse plot and forgettable characters. Rather the action serves to complement and enhance the running narrative which is Nikita’s journey from complete destitution to something akin to an empowered female force (although with plenty of commentaries on how her power is still being manipulated by the state). It is a tragic film and the violence is never glorified but rather shown in some gritty and harsh light. Feeling emotionally connected to characters in an action film is always an impressive feat, and La Femme Nikita is able to achieve that not just with Nikita but also with her fiancee and other smaller characters. Any complaints some people might have that the film runs a tad too long seem to not get how much emphasis this film places on putting the audience squarely in this world and achieving complete empathy with its heroes and villains (and it’s hard to tell who’s who).

This is the thinking man’s action film (along with Besson’s later film The Professional). For every intellectual out there who wants an action movie you can enjoy without feeling guilty, it’s right here. And even for those who don’t feel guilty about their action viewing pleasures, well, I still recommend La Femme Nikita because it’s simply better than 99% of the action films out there. I’ve loved both Besson films I’ve seen now, and I’m really curious to see what the rest of his library of movies feels like because he’s really solidified himself to me as one of the top-tier action directors out there. As long as you can enjoy films with subtitles, La Femme Nikita is must see.

Final Score: A-

“Kung-fu movies” (often a considerable misnomer) have a considerable cult following among film enthusiasts. As someone with a very slight (emphasis on “very”) background in martial arts, it is incredibly simple to explain this phenomenon. Whereas your traditional Michael Bay style action film relies on pre-fabricated special effects and copious explosions and other digital trickery to elicit its thrills, martial arts films often simply place their resources in the stars whose knowledge of a million ways to kill you with their bare hands and unnatural speed and agility is more than enough to satisfy any audience. There’s a reason that decades after his death, Bruce Lee remains a legend despite making only one film in the United States and only a handful of films in his native China. My film preference will always be high-brow arthouse pieces but there’s a 95% chance I will see whatever Jet Li’s next martial arts epic is because he rarely disappoints. Back in high school, one of my friends recommend a film by Thai up-and-coming martial artist Tony Jaa, Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior, and it became the very first movie my family ever rented from Netflix. We couldn’t have asked for a better introduction to the service. While the film’s plot is as paper-thin as you can possibly manage and its first thirty minutes are incredibly slow, once Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior kicks into gear, you really couldn’t ask for a more impressive display of martial arts mastery.

Ong-Bak‘s plot (as meager as it may be) is that of young Thai country peasant, Ting (Tony Jaa) as he goes on a quest to retrieve a sacred religious artifact which has been stolen from his village. A master of the Muay Thai fighting style (which primarily consists of beating your opponents senseless with your knees and elbows in extremely painful and impressive fashion), Ting is chosen by his village elders to go on the quest to receive his village’s stolen Buddha head. Once he reaches the city, he meets up with a former denizen of his village, Hamlae, a gambling addict as well as Hamlae’s female companion, a young student named Muay. Thanks to Hamlae’s connections with the criminal underworld, Ting is able to locate the criminals who stole from his village and he finds himself dragged into a world of underground kickboxing as well as a seemingly endless conflict against waves of seedy thugs who are hellbent on stopping him from receiving justice. Along the way, Ting mows through legions of criminals and fighters while showing off all of the martial arts prowess and sheer stunts craziness that has shot Tony Jaa to international stardom.

I’m not going to devote any time to an in-depth criticism of the acting or storytelling because this is a kung-fu movie and those things aren’t what you came for. Let’s just say that after the 30 minute mark when the film finally has a real action scene, the action doesn’t slow down one drop until the credits rolled. Tony Jaa is one of the most impressive martial artists to come on the scene in ages, and when I put him in the same level of talent as Bruce Lee and Jet Li, that’s really saying a lot. Rather than relying on any of the wire stunts that are in vogue in martial arts films these days, Tony Jaa simply lets his knees and elbows do the talking. He’s lightning quick and ridiculously agile. There’s a foot chase sequence that is as impressive as any of the given fights for how well Tony Jaa is able to jump and flip around the scenery  with such precision and finesse. The film will often show some of the most incredible stunts from multiple angles so you can get an even bigger appreciation for just how talented Jaa is. The fight scenes themselves are top notch. Even though I knew it was all choreographed ahead of time and Tony Jaa wasn’t really hitting those people as hard as it looked like he was hitting them, I still found myself seeing “ooooh” and “ouch” a million times through the movie because the choreography was so well done that I was able to momentarily suspend my disbelief.

Even the most cynical of movie fans who either A) aren’t fans of martial arts movies or B ) think they’ve seen everything there is under the sun, need to give this movie a go. Tony Jaa will leave your jaw on the floor. Simply put, he is one of the most bad-ass individuals around and his stunning Muay Thai skillset is pure entertainment. The movie might have virtually no plot and any other time that would bother me. But because Tony Jaa (and not computer graphics or wires) is doing all of this himself, I am able to set that quibble aside and just revel in how talented this man is. It’s not one of the best movies out there, but it’s certainly one of the most fun, and I’m hard pressed to find any one out there who might not walk away without at least a considerable level of respect for the talents of Tony Jaa.

Final Score: B

When it comes to the quality of films that I review for this blog, the quality can be streakier than a poorly washed window. I might watch 4 or 5 movies in a row that I give at least an A- and the same thing could happen with movies that I give no higher than a B to. By this blog’s very nature, I am mostly watching award-winning and nominated films so the quality curve is obviously slightly tilted. Right now, I’m on one of those high quality streaks as this film makes three out of the last four movies I’ve reviewed films that have received the normally elusive score of “A” from me, and honestly, this film was easily the best of the bunch, and only it’s completely exhausting length kept it from the even more elusive “A+”. I just finished Wolfgang Petersen’s classic war picture, Das Boot, and clocking in at three and a half hours, it is officially the longest film I’ve reviewed for this blog but also one of the most thrilling and engaging.

Das Boot is a 1981 German film  that was originally a six hour long miniseries for German television that was edited down to a two and a half hour film and eventually re-released in the 90’s at its current length of 3 1/2 hours. It chronicles the trials and tribulations of the crew of a German U-Boat at the end of World War II as they suffer one near death experience after another. Deeply claustrophobic in presentation, the film examines the psychology and character of the very large crew that services the ship as they turn from a fresh-faced crew of young boys (some crew members excepted) to a battle-hardened and grizzled group of survivors. At the center of the film is the boat’s unnamed Captain played by the marvelous Jurgen Prochnow (Beerfest), who starts the film as a man haunted by the realities of submarine warfare and is broken down even further by film’s ending. Without wanting to ruin anything, the film has one of the most shocking and heart-breaking endings of any film I’ve ever watched.

One of the most fantastic things that the film accomplishes is that despite (for whatever odd reason it doesn’t do it) not naming the vast majority of the cast besides their rank on the ship, you get a very large number of compelling and complete psychological portraits of the crew of this ship. Lieutenant Werner starts out as an eager and bright-eyed journalist who is meant to feed the German propaganda machine by capturing one of the “heroic” U-Boats in action but he ends up a disillusioned and broken mess by the end of the film. One of the other named crew members, Johann, is a veteran of countless patrols but during one harrowing encounter he cracks under the nerve-wracking pressure of the Allied attack. You have the sheer will and determination of the Chief Engineer who saves the ship from certain doom. There is the young man who writes a letter every day to his French girlfriend despite knowing that he’s probably never going to see her again. You even have the the one member of the crew who is loyal to the Nazi regime instead of just loyal to Germany who comes to see the reality of his situation.

From a technical perspective, this film is practically flawless. As I’ve read elsewhere on the internet, they created a virtually perfect recreation of one of the German U-Boats that was actually used, and the extreme attention to detail and realism is apparent in virtually every scene. At no point in the film, did I feel like any thing was put in to look cool or stylistic. It served a legitimate historical purpose. Also, I have never watched a film that made me feel as claustrophobic as this film does. The ship itself was tiny and very crowded. There was hardly any room to sleep or walk, let alone maneuver and be comfortable. That feeling persisted through out the entire film. The sense of claustrophobia was practically smothering and I was in a more comfortable sized bed-room. When I finish this review, I may walk around my house a little bit just to get a sense of freedom. Also, the camera-work did a great job of really placing you in the action and tension of the film’s many moments when life and death hanged in a precarious and inherently chaotic balance.


The entire cast gave stellar performances, but special mention must be given to Jurgen Prochnow as the Captain. His transformation throughout the film is really something to behold. While he starts the film off hardened and a little beaten, he still has some life in him and the ability to smile and appreciate things. By the time the film ends, he is simply alive and surviving. Prochnow achieves this illustrious turn through a frightening sense of weariness. While I’m sure Petersen applied a lot of make-up to achieve the haunted look on Prochnow’s face, no make-up can achieve the power of his thousand-mile stare and hauntingly piercing blue eyes. When it comes to truly losing one’s self in a role, this is quite a powerful performance. While I would need more time to think about where it stands against the best male performances I’ve seen for this blog, I can definitely say that for the current 50 movie set I’m working on for this blog, Prochnow is sitting comfortably on top.

I mentioned this particular concept in one of my reviews for Band of Brothers, but it’s very difficult for a war film to be anti-war, because by its very nature, showing acts of heroism and bravery will inherently glorify said actions and therefore war itself. Francois Truffaut was the man to really analyze that concept. I can easily say that Das Boot is one of a handful of films that I can name that really is anti-war and in no way, shape, or form glorifies war itself. The over-riding theme of this film besides the battle for survival is that war is Hell. And in Das Boot, Hell might be an understatement. This film consists of suffering, suffering, and a little more suffering, and then it gives you Hell itself for its terrifying and bewildering final act. Much like The Deer Hunter, there is no glory or heroism in this film. There is simply survival.

I’m Jewish, and it’s going to have to take a great movie to make me cheer for Nazis. The sheer fact that Das Boot accomplishes this feat would by itself nearly make this a great film. The fact that it is easily the most compelling and authentic chronicles of the hellish realities of war since The Deer Hunter confirms this greatness. I realize that this review is one of the longest that I’ve ever written, but what else can I do for a movie that is of such epic length and ambition. I wish I could give this film an “A+” as it so clearly deserves this, and I bet I would give the mini-series an “A+”; however, 3 and a half hours is just a long time to sit through any film, especially one where there is a lot of down time. If you’re a fan of war movies that challenge your brain and emotions more than your adrenal gland, this is simply one of the best war films that I’ve ever seen, and you need to watch it.

Final Score: A

 It’s not a huge secret on this blog that I’m a bit of an otaku. Well, I fancy myself to be an otaku, but I really only have a slightly above average knowledge of anime and manga. Anyways, I remember when I read my first manga a couple of years ago and how much I enjoyed it. It was Death Note which I read in its entirety in about a week or two. I was than engrossed by it. I have since read Fullmetal Alchemist, some Elfen Lied, some Bleach, and some Soul Eater. One manga that I’ve always wanted to read but never got around to was Battle Royale. My dad saw the live-action movie a while back that it was based off of and really enjoyed it, so I put it at the top of my Netflix queue even though it isn’t on my official list for this blog. It came today and while it wasn’t a great movie, it was still pretty cool and entertaining, and I’m definitely going to read the manga now.

The plot of Battle Royale is an amalgamation of Lord of the Flies and the Arnold Schwarzenegger classic The Running Man (I use the term classic so loosely there). When Japan’s unemployment rate reaches 15%, it’s student population boycotts the education system. Out of fear of the riotous and rebellious youth, the adults enact a fascist new law to take care of the rising problem with the youth. An entire 9th grade class is chosen by a national lottery to take place on a deadly game on a remote island. The rules are simple: the children are given weapons and supplies (although each kid gets a different weapon) and are then given three days to kill each other until there is only one child left standing. While some kids merely try to survive, others begin to take a psychotic enjoyment in the murder while all bonds of friendship and community quickly disappear.

This is easily one of the most violent movies that I’ve watched for this blog (at least since Kill Bill). There was so much blood and action that I thought I was watching one of the stylistic action films of like Quentin Tarantino or Robert Rodriguez. Fortunately, it was also mixed with a healthy amount of social commentary ala Lord of the Flies. My only real problem with the film is that there are so many kids, around 40, that other than the main 5 or 6, it’s really hard to actually care about any of them. A lot of the deaths that are supposed to be meaningful outside of the main group fail to carry any emotional weight because I don’t know their names, let alone anything about them to make me care about them.

If you like action flicks, this is a pretty decent one. My dad actually watched it one time entirely in Japanese with no subtitles and still knew almost exactly what was going on (even though he doesn’t speak Japanese. He was just dumb and didn’t know how to turn on the subtitles) so if you have concerns about foreign films, you really shouldn’t have those problems. Even if you don’t like action films, this one is still pretty entertaining. I’m of the firm belief that straight action films can never be great works of art so unless they’re deconstructing their genre (which I guess makes them not straight action films), but that’s my own personal bias against the genre. Anyways, everybody ought to give this one a go unless you’re offended by copious amounts of blood.

 Final Score: B